Message from APWU President Mark Dimondstein to the Eugene V. Debs Centennial Commemoration
[Note: Following are major excerpts from a message sent to the Debs’ Centennial Commemoration, held in Cleveland, Ohio, on October 5-6, 2018, under the sponsorship of the Labor Education and Arts Project.]
Dear Sisters and Brothers:
I salute you for having this fitting assembly 100 years after the legendary Debs’ outstanding anti-War World I stance and famous speech – at a current time when bipartisan, endless and unjust wars for regime change line the pockets of the military industrial complex, and bring unspeakable hardships and horrors the world over.
I was asked to speak on the question of “an independent political party based in the labor movement,” an issue I have been involved with for many decades, including in the Labor Party efforts under the creative leadership of Tony Mazzochi and the Oil, Chemical and Atomic Workers Union (OCAW).
Let me share a few of my thoughts on this subject by quoting comments I wrote to the APWU membership before and after the 2016 election.
In September 2015, I shared the following thoughts on the coming presidential election and asked members for their input:
“Everywhere we turn, and no matter which party is in power, Corporate America is having their way at the expense of the rest of us, the 99%. Wall Street dominates the policies of our government and the corporate overlords laugh all the way to the bank…
“In 2008, Democrats won the White House, the Senate and the House of Representatives. The Senate had a filibuster-proof majority. Yet legislation to raise the minimum wage to a living wage was not passed. Legislation guaranteeing paid sick leave was not passed. The Employee Free Choice Act, which was promised and which would have helped level the playing field for workers trying to organize unions, was not passed. Legislation to end the congressionally manufactured pre-funding crisis that is strangling the Postal Service was not passed…
“During the 2016 election cycle, postal workers should certainly look to elect and re-elect pro-worker candidates no matter which party they are from. The APWU can also promote issue-based ballot initiatives, such as living-wage provisions that uplift workers, our families and our communities. But we should also help find a way out of the ‘lesser-of-two-evils’ choices we are continually offered and build an independent political movement where we are not taken for granted by politicians, where elections are not bought and sold, and where our elected representatives are truly accountable to the people.”
After the election I had this to say:
“[T]his election was truly a revolt against the status quo, against the elites and against ‘politics as usual.’ While we have many terrific friends in Congress and will continue to work to elect worker-friendly candidates, the fundamental politics of both the Democrat and Republican parties over the last few decades have undercut and failed the working class…
“It [the presidential election] did not work out as the two corporate-controlled parties planned. They failed to understand that the 99%, especially the working class, are fighting mad. We, the workers, have been kicked in the gut by a rigged system. We suffer from downward mobility, a loss of manufacturing jobs to rotten trade deals, tax structures favoring the wealthy, an infrastructure crumbling around us, our water poisoned, an economic ‘recovery’ going to the top 1%, glaring and growing income inequality, and unaffordable healthcare and college education. …
“We were once again stuck with the ‘lesser of two evils’ choice. There was no independent political party accountable to us, the workers.”
I appreciate the opportunity to share these few thoughts with your gathering. Our union has been struggling with how to fight our way out of the political quagmire. At our 2016 national convention, attended by 2,000 delegates, we passed a resolution “Exploring New Directions for Labor in Electoral Politics” which stated:
“In addition to the traditional supporting of electoral candidates who are friends and allies of postal workers, the APWU will also pursue a strategy of advancing our core issues through referenda, initiatives and propositions at the statewide and local level; study the viability of independent and third party politics; and explore the possibility of creating a new labor-based political party, or any other reasonable means of advancing the interests of labor in electoral politics.” The APWU presented a similar resolution to the October 2017 AFL-CIO Constitutional Convention, which passed in a slightly watered-down form.
Since this is a Centennial meeting of the outstanding labor leader Eugene V. Debs, let me close with two of his many great statements.
One apropos to the subject you asked me to speak on: “You have got to unite in the same labor union and in the same political party and strike and vote together, and the hour you do that, the world is yours.”
The other helps ground any genuine working-class leader with the right orientation to the members we represent and I hold its sentiments close at hand in my work as a union president: “When I rise, it will be with the ranks, not from the ranks.”
In Union Solidarity,
American Postal Workers Union